Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

“’Half the crews out here find some cache of oil or copper or whatever and none of them figure out what to do with it.  Crew boss grabs it in the end, and they get bumped off the wrecks…Luck isn’t what you need out here,’ Pima said. ‘Smarts is what you need.’”

Nailer works light crew as a ship breaker in this dystopic novel.  Ravaged by rising sea levels, devastated by the depletion of oil resources, and wracked with storms so violent that they are called “city killers”, Nailer’s world hardly resembles ours.  His job is simple in description, but incredibly dangerous.  Giant magnates of the corporate world pay for salvage materials, stripped from the rusting hulls of gas-fueled boats, now wrecked and obsolete on the shores. Children do this work.   It’s not so much the age that matters, really, it’s the weight:  light crew has to be just that—light.  See, old ducts are narrow, and prone to collapse.  The lighter, smaller, and quicker you are, the higher the chances of survival.

The world of Ship Breaker is all about clan loyalty.  There are no safety nets like health insurance, savings accounts, or even sufficient food.  If you don’t make quota at your job, you don’t have a job anymore.  When it comes to survival, all you have is your crew, your family.  Unfortunately, Nailer’s mother is dead and his father is abusive, long ago lost to the world of drugs, fueling his habit by working as a hit man.  That leaves Pima and her mother, the only people in the world Nailer can rely on.

Everyone dreams of getting lucky: finding a cache of oil, or a swank wreck (the capsized hull of a rich person’s boat) to salvage.  When Nailer discovers the swankest boat he’s ever seen before, caught up on the sunken remains of old New Orleans, he knows it’s his lucky strike.  However, when he finds the daughter of the richest shipping magnate in the world, still alive inside the wreck, he is forced to make a life-changing decision: either kill her, and keep the treasure of the wreck, living a life of guaranteed luxury from the goods he plunders, or save her, and return her (somewhow) to her family.

What follows is a gripping, sometimes gritty adventure, full of frightening half-men hybrids, bred to fight and defend the swanks, train-hopping, pirates, betrayal, and hard choices.  This incredible book will keep you thinking for days.  Both a National Book Award finalist and the recipient of the prestigious Printz award, I have to say both prizes are richly deserved.  Personally, I’m not so much a post-apocalyptic novel person.  I never finished A Brave New World, or even 1984. However, this book kept me in its clutches, and I was sorry to finish it. I’d include it on a list of the top ten books I’ve ever read.  This has cross-crowd appeal, too.  For the readers who love adventures, science fiction, suspense, and thinking about the big what-ifs, this book offers it all, wrapped up with a convincing, well-thought-out narrative.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, New York: 2010. 336 pp.  Ages 15 and up. ISBN: 978-0316056212

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